Cain’s Jawbone: To Reckon With Henry   11 comments

I’ve done a run through all the text, and before I get into some insights, I want to set some ground rules in case anyone wants to join in. You are absolutely welcome to. If for some reason you’ve made significant progress on an aspect before coming here — that is, you know “spoilers” and are not just playing along — I would prefer any comments be held off.

I have a copy of the text here with comment permission. I’m holding off on a spreadsheet until I have a better idea of what the layout should be (more on that in a moment).

To reckon with Henry! That was never easy. Just beyond the laurels, I turned sharply and there he was, bending over the body of his latest victim. There was blood all about. I called to him sharply and he seemed dazed.

— Page 21

I also want to caution is I’m about to make a guess here that might be gigantic spoiler — it deals with a fundamental aspect of the story. If you want to take your own shot at reading and theorizing first without being tainted you might want to veer away until later.

The modern box set, picture from Ash Digital.

For my readthrough I decided to go backwards, 100 to 1, for no particular reason. This led to a rather intense start, which feels like it might be a genuine ending:

I dimly guess why the old dead so wanted this. I had worked for him, Henry had worked for him. If I could get up, as, believe me, I cannot, I would have a thing to say to her. She lolls over at me gloating, her mouth blood-tinted on the puma freckle of her beauty. Why should I think of Henry at this particular juncture? I have it. Scotland Yard, of course. And little ‘twill matter to one. A sorry thing to be last noticed : the buttonhole has escaped from the buttonholer. He, the reckless old cock, slips down past Woolworth’s and she continues full-sail toward the Kursal, as flush—oh, you wicked woman—as May. The girl is smiling at me. That’s not so good. Here I shake off the bur o’ the world, man’s congregation shun. O beastly woman. You know not how ill’s all here, about my heart ; but I know. Henry, I feel it, is for the first and last time getting out of hand. Good-bye, Henry. He drops awa. . . . .

In terms of surface understanding, “I” the narrator here is “working for” someone and “Henry”, who shows up a great deal in the story (more than any other character, I think) also “works for” the same person. This is followed by some stream-of-consciousness which may or may not be wordplay, and then … some kind of death? “He drops away” being cut off sounds akin to a murder happening, but of who? “Goodbye, Henry” makes it sound like Henry itself, but their earlier “Why should I think of Henry” seems to disabuse that notion.

What really popped out was an immense number of references to Henry — searching yields 56 mentions — including this one, page 91, that I found baffling.

In my youth I had been worried that I bore the same name as Newbolt’s admiral and Shakespeare’s sergeant, and it had irked me when, in my student days, I had been known as the Smiler with the Knife. Afterwards I found it better in practice to capitalise my third letter. The Blue Rocket was still going down next day ; in fact, I knew too much to let it go up. It even seemed to be succeeding. The snowy-banded, dilettante, delicate-handed? At least I was the last. I would not say at last I was the least. I tried to interest him in my little Black Museum, and indeed elicited a frisson with the preserved eyeball of the well-known and respected Cadaver Charlie. The eye in which, just before its fellow was shot out by the Chicago sleuth, he had asked that suave detective if he, the detective, could see any green. It looked, though, as if Henry had been playing about with this exhibit. I would have to take steps.

First off, “Newbolt’s admiral and Shakespeare’s sergeant” are both references to Henry. So on this page, the narrator here seems to be admitting their name is Henry. But what is with capitalizing “my third letter”? This feels like it has to be wordplay, but I’m not sure what it indicates. Even more mysteriously, Henry then is referred to later as someone other than the narrator “It looked, though, as if Henry had been playing about with this exhibit.”

I also quoted another excerpt last time about the narrator being called “Hal”, and there’s this bit from page 94 which seems to hint at another name: “Naturally I looked up. And I tell you I found it awe-inspiring enough to actually see my own name through the window, printed there in great letters for the gaze of all and sundry. With a blush I concentrated again on Henry, and asked myself if his recent activities did or did not constitute the darbs.” And yes, there’s Henry again.

Holistically, I really got the sense of different people with different attitudes. Some people were stern and upper-class; some were not. 60 seemed to outline the pieces of a murder, and are very explicit about calling Henry “my peerless investigator” — like Henry is working for the narrator.

I had sufficient knowledge to realise that I had succeeded. I ordered Charles to spare no expense in confecting that Sundae known as Lover’s Delight for my companion. I believed in letting a man have a bit in. A couple of hours later the parson in the pulpit had, with his collaborator, done the trick. I looked down on what I had accomplished. Death closes all : but something ere the end, some work of noble note, may yet be done. That figurehead beard would plough the pseudo-scientific seas no more, at least. There had been other murders, of course, to-day, and with greater consequence. Francis Ferdinand’s, for instance. But never one that had left a man more dead. I gave the huddle farewell, and forbade Henry, my peerless investigator, to pursue the matter further. I climbed down from the short flight of folding steps upon which I had secured my inevitable heliographic record of success. No more by thee my steps shall be for ever and for ever.

So, here’s my grand theory: there is not only just one narrator. There are, perhaps, six narrators, one for each murder; since the pages all continuously use “I”, it gets disguised who is talking on a particular page. So the first task would be to figure out who the six people are, and sort the pages appropriately. (In fact, perhaps, the narrator is the murderer in all the cases?)

I still have yet to think much of the chronology. You might notice in the last excerpt a reference to Francis Ferdinand’s death (kickstarting WW1), which happened on June 28, 1914. I don’t think this implies the story is happening in 1914 — although it’d add an extra wrinkle if it was — but rather the specific day of June 28 matches with the page. Then, perhaps, each month of the six months of the story neatly encapsulates a narrator and a murder.

(There is, at least mercifully, a few pages where the connection is obvious. There are pairs of pages that all involve poems and breaks mid-poem, but the beginnings and ending of the poems are mixed up. The actual list is: 12->50, 23->87, 49->13, 86->24, 92->42, 41->93. So we have at least six pairs linked up.)

I probably next need to give the whole thing another read, with the notion of mind of separating pages into narrator-characters. This supposition may be entirely false. Certainly the multitude of Henrys is disturbing. The page where the character says he is Henry but also talks about one: maybe there’s more than one Henry, just with different last names? (I could of course also be solving the puzzle wrong.) Is Henry sometimes used not even for a person but an object? There are too many occurrences for him to just be illusory.

Posted May 25, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Gamebook, Interactive Fiction, Poetry, Puzzles

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11 responses to “Cain’s Jawbone: To Reckon With Henry

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  1. The poems are a trap! The poem that ends on p. 50 is the one that starts on p. 11, and the one that starts on p. 49 is the one that ends on p. 12 (Epigram, by H.D., and Europe: A Prophecy, by William Blake, respectively.) If there are some that have not been posted on the internet it will be difficult.

    There are certainly many allusions and quotations; “Here I shake off the bur o’ the world, man’s congregation shun” is one, and much of p. 18 (“the fall of the rupee”) is from The Importance of Being Earnest. I have not found my cryptic crossword skills to be any help yet!

    • Poems fixed. Really easy for someone pre-Internet to get tricked by that! (and they’d have to figure out that hey, this is from Browning, and here’s the other part)


      THE GOLDEN one is gone from the banquets;
      She, beloved of Atimetus,
      The swallow, the bright Homonoea:
      Gone the dear chatterer;
      Death succeeds Atimetus.

      (Epigram by H.D.)

      23->87 But rum alone’s the tipple, and the heart’s delight
      Of the old mate of Henry Morgan

      (Captain Stratton’s Fancy)


      EUR8.3; E62| Bring Palamabron horned priest, skipping upon the mountains:
      EUR8.4; E62| And silent Elynittria the silver bowed queen:
      EUR8.5; E62| Rintrah where hast thou hid thy bride!
      EUR8.6; E62| Weeps she in desart shades?
      EUR8.7; E62| Alas my Rintrah! bring the lovely jealous Ocalythron.

      (Blake, Europe, A Prophecy)

      The old brown thorn-trees break in two high over Cummen Strand,
      Under a bitter black wind that blows from the left hand;
      Our courage breaks like an old tree in a black wind and dies,
      But we have hidden in our hearts the flame out of the eyes
      Of Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.
      The wind has bundled up the clouds high over Knocknarea,
      And thrown the thunder on the stones for all that Maeve can say.
      Angers that are like noisy clouds have set our hearts abeat;
      But we have all bent low and low and kissed the quiet feet
      Of Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.

      Red Hanrahan’s Song about Ireland
      W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)

      “Yet now my heart leaps, O beloved!
      God’s child, with his dew
      On thy gracious gold hair, and those lilies
      Still living and blue
      As thou break’st them to twine round thy harp-strings, 25
      As if no wild heat
      Were raging to torture the desert!”
      Then I, as was meet,

      Syria: Gilboa
      Robert Browning (1812–1889)


      And Brussels an’ Utrecht velvet, and baths and a Social Hall,
      And pipes for closets all over, and cutting the frames too light,
      But M’Cullough he died in the Sixties, and —- Well, I’m dying to-night…

      Rudyard Kipling
      The “Mary Gloster”

    • I’ve made a file just with the 12 poem pages merged.

      Is it possible (assuming the 6 narrators theory is true) that each one belongs to a different narrator?

  2. I have a Henry theory. I need to do some rereading again with the theory in mind to see if it holds water. In the spirit of Torquemada, I’ll leave here a classic lateral thinking puzzle (the kind where puzzlers ask the puzzle giver yes-or-no questions to elicit enough information to solve the puzzle) that relates to my theory:

    Antony and Cleopatra lie dead on the floor in an Egyptian villa. Next to them is a broken bowl. How did they die?

    • >see if it holds water

      I see what you did there

      Henry is _everywhere_ in this thing. He’s also married to the narrator in one section (see the last of the joined poem clips I made), sometimes the narrator is just attracted, and sometimes the narrator only barely knows for sure whoever it is is named Henry.

      Also, definitely seems to be the case the narrator is male on one page and female on another, so I’m still going with the multi-narrator theory. What’s also possible is that the _times_ might be farther apart than I expected — that is, the six months may not all be in the same year.

      There’s a lot more figure-out-the-narrative logic than word puzzles, I’ve found, I think the author tried hard to make it so the entire thing (once put together) would be “natural”. Where solving word-puzzles anyway can be useful is where there’s offhand references, like the spoonerism mentioned earlier — there’s another character that seems to sometimes be the Queen, so the “queer old dean” being mentioned means that the “Queen” character is still alive? Something like that? So the narrator(s) aren’t giving out literal code phrases in the middle of texts, but sometimes they say things in odd ways that need to be deciphered so we realize that character X is who they’re referring to, they’re just using a pet name.

      • Indeed you have seen what I did there!

        So my theory came to mind based on this excerpt from page 82:

        “Bartholomew pawed my ankles even, but I am not superstitious, to ladder danger, desiring sweet biscuits. They were so bad for him. He was the third dog I had had in London. I was afraid, I realised, that I did not notice him enough. It was the first dog I noticed, and at the very beginning. You might have thought it strange for me to say these things, but you never knew Henry.”

        And rereading other Henry passages – which I’ll note via comments when I have the opportunity – some (not all!) of the descriptions of Henry’s behavior tend more towards the canine than the human.

        I think there are indeed multiple Henrys, and further, I think that one of them is a dog.

        And, based on 45 and then 36, maybe dog Henry is one of the “killers” – perhaps of another animal – *if* that counts as one of the killings. Which it might not (instead being a red herring)!

      • yeah, this explains the almost weirdly casual mention of Henry killing: “I had seen Henry—surely I had heard him called so—bending innocently over an innocent corpse of his own making.”

        I think page 60 is also dog-Henry: “But never one that had left a man more dead. I gave the huddle farewell, and forbade Henry, my peerless investigator, to pursue the matter further”

    • I think Bartholomew is a dog. Reference to him on page 15 as “Bart”.

  3. Pingback: Cain’s Jawbone: Deceptions | Renga in Blue

  4. I may have analyzed it wrong but look at the link between page 3 and page 32. My theory is that Henry is a person and one of the narrator-character. Another link is in the six linked pages. In five of them Henry is mentioned, one of them isn’t (might be Henry talking, might not)

  5. I just stumbled upon your page and had found another interesting thing with the poems and unfinished sentence page pairings. If you look, the page numbers for the 2 sets of “unfinished sentence pairings” and the poems add up interestingly.

    Page sets:
    73>67 = 140

    92>42 = 134

    12>50 = 62

    23>87 = 110

    What’s it mean? Who knows, ha. Maybe all of the pages that go together equal another set of two pages that go together and there are 50 different “sets”…that would seem too easy, esp considering the pattern above (#>#)…

    There are 6 poems and 6 murders, though…

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